Member Success Stories

Fred McDonald Nominated for International Award

Fort McKay First Nation Chief and Council congratulate Fred McDonald on his international award nomination for a poem from his recently published book.

Fred was recognized by the Spur Literary Awards from the Western Writers of America (WWA). Considered to be North America’s premier celebration of literature about the West, Fred was a finalist with his poem The Last Request, a tale of a journey a daughter undertakes with her dad’s ashes, on horseback, into the mountains and the past.

“It’s an honour to be recognized by the Western Writers of America,” said Fred. “The post-reconstructionist work the WWA have done in recent years has made it possible for Indigenous writers like myself to compete as equals instead of merely being seen as caricatures of the old Western narrative.”

Well-known for his work as a painter, Fred Junior (so-called to distinguish himself from his dear, departed Dad, Fred Senior) has broadened his horizons into literary matters with the publication of his first collection of poetry. Dreams and Journeys is a look through Fred’s eyes at his world, both now and in the past.

Fred was born and raised locally and grew up in the bush and on the land beside the Athabasca River. His parents taught him the traditional ways of hunting and trapping and, though he has travelled the world over, Fred’s heart will always bring him home, to Fort McKay, his family, and his community. This grounding is reflected in his art. His paintings tell stories filled with the imagery of his people, and now his poetry is an extension of that same storytelling. The poems are richly imagined yet warm-hearted; easy to read, and eager to be read again.

Fred’s poetry is of its own time and place in the community. His memories of playing golf on MacDonald Island which once belonged to his great-grandfather become an examination of what is gone forever. A story about John Wayne is also a portrait of a way of life, growing up in a sharing community, making do with little. Elsewhere there is anger in the platitudes of perfidious colonizers and fear in the reminiscences of the Horse River Fire, while memories of a family canoe evoke the traditions of the past alongside the sound of the passing, rushing water.

Fred is a world-renowned, award-winning artist, painter, photographer, and now an internationally recognized poet. He is also a former business leader in the Fort McKay community, and past CEO of the Fort McKay Group of Companies. He served as the President of the Northern Alberta Aboriginal Business Association and was awarded the Regional Aboriginal Recognition Award. Yet if pressed to describe himself he would say he is a man of his people, his Nation, and, most of all, his family.

Nothing says this better than his opening words to his collection. “I dedicate this book to my daughters, Raven, Genny, and Grace, and to my grandchildren, Sebastian, Jewel, Johnny, and Zoe. Your unconditional love inspires.”

Well done, Fred!

Lina Gallup receives several honours

Fort McKay First Nation Chief and Council would like to congratulate Elder Lina Gallup on her recent string of achievements as well as recognizing her remarkable life. Just recently Lina was honoured as a recipient of the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee Medal alongside Councillor Raymond Powder. Lina was also asked to light the cauldron that signified the opening of the Arctic Winter Games and was disappointed she didn’t get to do it by dogsled, the original plan.

And to top all that, Lina was recognized as a Community Builder in a recent awards ceremony in Fort McMurray. This was a special award given to outstanding people for indelible effort, long service, and a sustained level of excellence and there is no one who deserves this more than Lina. Her entire life, and she is 92 on her next birthday, has been one of resilience, compassion, and example.

Lina had already lived more lives and experienced more of life itself than most when she was granted the first licence awarded to a member of the First Nations in Alberta to look after homeless and orphaned children. The Nekinan Group Home would help and care for more than 1700 children over the 20 years Lina was in charge before she finally called it a day and returned to her first home.

It’s been a long journey. Although her family is from Fort McKay, Lina was born near Fond-du-Lac, Saskatchewan as her Father was a trapper along the shores of Lake Athabasca. Her grandfather was Louis Fosseneuve, a contemporary of Louis Riel and originally known as Sure Shot for his hunting skills (later he became Captain Schott after shooting the Grand Rapids in a scow of his own design).

Life was good, until the day the RCMP and Government officials came and took Lina and her two sisters Rose and Freda,  and put them in the residential school system. Lina was 6. It took 65 years for her to come home to Fort McKay and live in the Nation again.

Lina spent thirteen years at St. Bernard’s in Grouard. Then they put her on a train to Edmonton. It was 1950, the ticket was one way, and Lina had no skills, no experience, and no real chance at useful employment. Her first job was as a cleaner in the geriatric patients’ ward.

It was dismal, but Lina never gave up. Over the years the cleaning jobs became better, she grasped every meagre opportunity she earned and eventually she gained a place as a nursing student. She also met her husband, the love of her life. She settled down in Calgary, had a family and for the first time in forever, she was happy.  But she wanted to help children. She’d spent thirteen years learning all the wrong ways to do so from her time in Grouard. At Nekinan Home, she was able to do everything the right way. And she did.

To encapsulate Lina’s years would take a book, maybe two. She has lived a life of such care, compassion, and love that everyone who has met her is affected by her warmth. Her strength of Spirit is so profound she could overcome her horrible start in life and find within herself the love that she never received.

Now retired, Lina’s last and most important job was helping to teach the youth about the culture of our Nation and its people. She also shared her story of the residential schools. “I wanted people to know what happened.”

She is still a wealth of knowledge among the elders and a vital part of the history of the Nation. Congratulations on your honours Lina, as well as a life well-lived.

Congratulations to Tyrell Shott for 100 points

Fort McKay Chief and Council congratulate band member Tyrell Shott on his recent outstanding achievements on the ice.

On Feb. 18, 2023, Tyrell, who plays for the Northern Alberta Tomahawks, did something no one else on his team has managed so far. He set a new scoring record. Tyrell reached and passed the 100 points mark in the league, the first member of the Northern Tomahawks ever to do so.

The Tomahawks are based in Enoch, Alberta, and compete in the Greater Metro Junior League. All season Tyrell has been piling up the goals and assists. His scoring streak was good enough to get him included in the All-Star Game in January where he featured on the scoreboard. 

Tyrell has deep roots in the Fort McKay community; his mother Vanessa Shott and his grandmother Jane Mercredi work for the Fort McKay First Nation, and Tyrell’s younger brother Tyrese also shows promise as a hockey player. This will come as no surprise to older community members who remember their grandfather Danny Augier’s playing days back in the ‘60s and ‘70s.

As for his grandmother, “Jane is Tyrell’s biggest fan,” says Vanessa. True to form, when Jane heard about his selection to the All-Star roster, she set up a fundraiser to help with his expenses as the game was in Bancroft, Ont. That was a success, and since then Jane, Vanessa, Tyrese, and little sister Tasia, along with all the hockey fans in the community, have been waiting for the next milestone.

Well done, Tyrell!

Congrats to Gena Calliou on her achievement

Fort McKay First Nation Chief and Council congratulate Gena Calliou for her completion of the Certified Indigenous Human Resources Professional Designation (CIHRP)

The CIHRP is one of the certifications offered by The Aboriginal Financial Officers Association (AFOA) which was founded specifically to help Indigenous people better manage and govern their communities and organizations through a focus on enhancing management, finance and governance practices and skills. AFOA Canada’s premise is that one of the keys to successful self-determination, creating a better life for Canada’s Indigenous people and a better future for the next generation lies in improving the management skills of those responsible for the stewardship of Indigenous resources.

Gena’s official graduation ceremony was held at the AFOA conference in Ottawa last night, the 16th of February 2023.

“We are very proud of Gena for this achievement,” said FMFN CEO Chris Johnson. “Gena’s knowledge and qualification will stand her in good stead as part of the management team at Fort McKay First Nation.”

Gena’s not done yet. “Next year I’ll be back for my CAPA designation,” she said. CAPA stands for Certified Aboriginal Professional Administrator and is a perfect complement to the studies she has already done and the work she does for our Nation.

Well done Gena.

FMFN Youth Receive 2023 RARA Awards

Fort McKay Chief and Council would like to recognize the following youth members of our Nation who were honoured at the Wood Buffalo Regional Aboriginal Recognition Awards (RARA) held over the weekend.

Congratulations to Alicia Gladue, twice recognized as Outstanding Athlete and as Female Youth of the Year, Jaxson Hunter honoured for Junior Achievement, Anna Mercredi honoured for Junior Achievement, and Grayson Shott, also honoured for Junior Achievement. Alicia and Jaxson were on hand to receive their awards in person, while Grayson was unable to attend but sent his thank you.

The RARA event took place Saturday, Feb. 11 at Shell Place on MacDonald Island. The keynote speaker was Mrs. Universe of 2015 Ashley Callingbull. The actress, model, host, and First Nation activist from Enoch Cree First Nation inspired everyone with her words and took the time to talk to all the youth at the event.

Congratulations to Miranda Beaton who was the event Emcee, as well as the Moose Lake Drummers for providing an honor song recognizing all of the recipients.

A special thank you to photographer Nick Vardy, who shared his excellent pictures with us. We wish to congratulate all the nominees and winners from the Wood Buffalo region.

Well done everyone!

Chief Grandjamb Teaches Students Traditional Trapping Skills

This week students at Elsie Fabian School learned practical skills for skinning animals trapped on Fort McKay First Nation traditional land. The animals were donated by Chief Mel Grandjamb, who also shared his trapping expertise with the students.

“I am Chief, but I am also a hunter and trapper and I want to share that knowledge with our youth,” said Chief Grandjamb. “There is no better way to show our youth our culture than to bring them fur.”

“In 1975 I was 10 years old when my father Wilfred first took me out to his trapline on a dog sled. It took three days to get there, and we had to camp outside for three nights. In those days the fur was our only income for the full year. We needed the money to survive.”

“Now I am able to donate the animals I trap to the school for teaching purposes,” said Chief Grandjamb. “I can also share my traditional knowledge with the youth.”

Instructor Junior Poulin, the school’s Land Based Learning Assistant, learned his skills from Chief Grandjamb as they trapped together for the last eight years. “My father taught me and his father taught him,” said Chief Grandjamb. “It used to be all family-based knowledge. Now I am able to pass on that knowledge to our youth.”

“I was very impressed and happy when I found out Junior was hired to be an instructor,” he said. “I taught him and now he is teaching others.”

Poulin is excited about the engagement and enthusiasm he sees from the students. “There is such a high level of interest,” he said.

“When I started in December, I didn’t know how much the students would like it, whether they would be missing their video games. But they really want to be outside and to be experiencing our land. They make me so proud every day. They go full tilt at learning, and they are doing an incredible job.”

The students have already learned a lot about skinning, fleshing, and boarding said Poulin. “Our next steps will be getting them out to the trapline and setting traps and getting all the experience around that.”

Poulin also takes great pride in passing along what he has learned about his culture as well as trapping skills.

“It is a privilege to be able to show our youth our land-based values and for them to experience that feeling of working together,” he said. “We teach the students about love and respect, to be kind to each other and to the animals. It is all about understanding our culture and our values.”

Chief Grandjamb spent 23 days on the trapline in late 2022 and donated the animals he trapped during that time to the program. “Any time I caught an animal, it was not to use for money but to train you guys,” the Chief told the students. “I thanked The Creator for the animal to use to train you.”

The students in the skinning class included Abigail McClure, age 12 in Grade 7, who skinned a fisher. Malibu Grandjambe, age 14 and in Grade 9, and Zyree Janvier, age 14 and in Grade 8, each skinned a lynx. Danica McDonald was in attendance.

While the other students had previously had training, Hailey Calliou, age 11 and in Grade 6, was learning for the first time. When Hailey completed skinning her mink, she got a round of applause and congratulations from fellow students and her instructors.

“It is a great supportive atmosphere,” said the Chief. “There were no girls doing this when I was growing up. It is good to see them interested and involved. The big thing is to develop the program for everyone.”

The skinning class is linked to the Elsie Fabian curriculum, which emphasizes land-based learning in all aspects. The enthusiastic students are already sharing their knowledge with each other and helping new students as they begin their learning journey. Plans for next year include day camps and an overnight trip.

The chief imparted his traditional knowledge to the students, teaching them about different types of fur and their unique properties. He handed around pelts at different stages of the process from stretched on boards to tanned so that they could see and feel the difference.

The most important rule, he told the students, was to honour the animal for its part in our nation’s traditions. “Always respect your animal. Never disrespect it. No laughing or joking. We don’t do that. Never, never disrespect an animal.”

The skinning class is just one of the ways the Chief passes on traditional knowledge. He and Birch Mountain Enterprises began a program several years ago called Awake Cultural Camp. The program teaches fundamentals of hunting and trapping and carries on the tradition of passing along knowledge.  “When Chris Wilson was young, I passed on traditional skills to him,” said Chief Grandjamb, “and now we are working together to pass those on to the next generation.”

“Under the Awake program, I felt I had to give back to the community. Teaching trapping was how I was going to do that.  Now is the time in my life to give back.”


Congratulations to New Peace Officers

Fort McKay First Nation Chief and Council congratulate Christian McDonald and Nick Laurent for their completion of the Community Peace Officer Training course.

The official graduation ceremony was held last night, Tuesday, Dec. 20, at the Peace Officer Training Academy in Edmonton.

“We are very proud of Christian and Nick for this tremendous accomplishment,” said Chief Mel Grandjamb. “As Community Peace Officers they will be making an important contribution to safeguarding our community and our traditional values.”

Officers Christian and Nick will soon be on duty in Fort McKay. Peace Officers are a community-based addition to our Nation’s safety and security team. They do not replace the RCMP. Rather they are a local knowledge complement to them, with the power to enforce certain legislation within the community.

Parks and Land Lead Craig Randell said, “The Fort McKay Park Ranger team and the Sustainability Department would like to applaud Christian McDonald and Nicholaus Laurent on their achievement, the successful completion of the Community Peace Officer Training, Academy Class Number 37. The Park Ranger Program is excited to have Nick and Christian return with their newly acquired skills and training!”

Once again, well done to both of you.

Megan Shott’s video highlights the community

Chief Mel Grandjamb and the Fort McKay First Nation congratulate member Megan Shott for the launch of her short-form video production at the recent Buffy Awards in Fort McMurray. “My Girl” was part of the Connection to Land series curated by Luay Eljamal from Symmetree Theatre and the Arts Council of Wood Buffalo, featuring three Indigenous artists exploring stories important to them individually as well as their communities.

Megan’s film is set in the Northern Boreal Forest. The story begins when she rises from the moss and embarks on a path to explore the woods. She eventually finds a handwritten letter signed with an “X” and she retrieves access to a remote cabin. Inside, she meets someone who seems to have been waiting for her this entire time. It subtly investigates cultural beliefs, identity, family history and completeness through her love of both her land and her people. Although it is a short film, there are layers of meaning that beg you to watch it again. It is that rare gem, an empowering story that is both beautiful and needed in today’s era.

For those who know Megan, you will see she includes her family in the film. There is an old photo of Baby Megan with her older brother, Dustin Nokohoo, and archival footage of the late David Janvier.

“Writing this dreamscape story was a reflection on specific events throughout my life, from the day I was born, my golden year, my early 20s, to this past summer,” said Megan. It is apparent that the story is filled with delicate details about her lived experience as a modern Dene and Cree woman.

“Zara says one word [SUHK-GEE-UH] in Dene in the film and it translates to Auntie. I felt that it was important that she speaks the language, even if it ended up being the one word because it is a gift when we do use our mother tongue,” said Megan, expressing the importance of using Dene language in the film.

Currently, Megan is working towards a Master of Social Work and continuing to write creatively for potential projects. Megan was featured in YMM Magazine earlier this year and she aspires to publish a book in the future.  She was also present during Learning on the Land Week at the Elsie Fabian School in September, helping her mom (Marina Nokohoo) teach the process of moosehide tanning.

Ivan Boucher’s new venture

Chief Mel Grandjamb and the Fort McKay First Nation would like to congratulate member Ivan Boucher on the occasion of the grand opening of his new business in Spruce Grove, The Grape and Olive Martini Bar.

“We opened on Friday the 4th of November, and we were happy to have some guests from the Nation here to support us,” said Ivan. “Chief Mel Grandjamb came, as well as FMFN CEO Chris Johnson and some friends from the Fort McKay business world, including Stuart Randell, and Sami Saad from the Fort McKay Group.”

Ivan’s business connections in Fort McKay go back to his time running Birch Mountain Enterprises with his friends and partners Chris and Lee Wilson. He sold his share to them after they had built the business, and his plan at that point was to retire. Then he started flipping houses, buying and fixing them in Edmonton, which became a job until the pandemic put a stop to that.

Ivan is the kind of person where free time chafes at him. He and his wife Jennifer talked themselves into deciding not to retire, and they realized Spruce Grove needed somewhere classy where adults could go out and have a good time. Thus the idea for the Grape and Olive was formed. They chose the name on purpose, the grape for the wines they would serve, the olive an integral part of a martini.

“It was good to have family and friends at the opening, backing us,” said Ivan. “From way back, even before I was with Birch Mountain Enterprises, Fort McKay First Nation has supported me all the way.”

The business, is up on the second floor, right in the middle of the town, and it exudes class and good cheer. The menus are seasonal, the wines curated and the martinis crafted by the expert staff. Ivan and Jennifer have created the kind of entertainment they wanted as customers.

Ivan’s come a long way since his first job on the oil sands. He’s worked hard and been successful, and Fort McKay First Nation would like to extend their congratulation on Ivan’s new business venture. Best wishes.

Miranda Beaton, Top 50 Under 50 Recognition

Chief Mel Grandjamb and the Fort McKay First Nation would like to congratulate member Miranda Beaton. Miranda has been chosen as one of YMM Magazine’s 2022 Top 50 under 50 people in the wider community of Wood Buffalo. This honor is bestowed on community members who love their community and give of their gifts, their talents, their time, and their hard work to positively impact the lives of those around them.

“We are ecstatic that Miranda has received this much-deserved honour,” says Chief Mel Grandjamb. “We are also delighted that Miranda is now going to be using her many talents as emcee of cultural and festival events for our Nation.”

Miranda says she never expected to find herself on this list of local movers and shakers who embody generosity, grit, kindness, loyalty, and determination. She tells a story about how in 2001, NHL coach Ted Nolan of the Ojibwe Nation gave the commencement address to the 43 graduating Indigenous students of the Wood Buffalo area. Miranda remembers being there and she remembers Ted Nolan, but she doesn’t recall being the kind of student who would be recognized. “I always struggled in school,” she said.

And yet anyone who knows Miranda will not be at all surprised at her being selected for this honour. There are many reasons why she deserves this award, and the many achievements she has packed into her life. “The most rewarding aspect of my career is having the opportunity to work for my Nation, building the workforce and talent pool, not only within the Indigenous peoples but also in the Wood Buffalo Region and beyond.”

Among her successes, Miranda was instrumental in setting up the FMFN Human Resources department. The aim was to create opportunities for and within the community, a goal that is close to her heart. In her sixteen years and counting with the Fort McKay First Nation she has worked just about every job in Human Resources, including a valuable period as the Director. She later went on to play an important role in developing Fort McKay’s education department and also led that for a while.

When she was forced to step away from the pressures of work, it was only because of an insidious new challenge; cancer. It was a long hard battle and when she beat it, rather than sitting back and relaxing, she chose to carry on her personal path of continuous improvement.

“A year after completing my treatment I applied to Simon Fraser University’s Indigenous Business Leadership MBA program.” It’s the only Master’s program of its kind in the country and Miranda is on target to complete it in 2023.

If you ask her, Miranda will list her greatest achievements as her family, especially her two sons. Apart from that? “I believe that showing up as the truest version of yourself, showing vulnerability and authenticity, allows others to do the same. “

We look forward to seeing what Miranda does next.

You can read the YMM Magazine profile of Miranda here:

Chris Wilson honoured at the National Philanthropy Awards.

Chief Mel Grandjamb and the Fort McKay First Nation are proud to congratulate Chris Wilson on the recognition he received at the awards ceremony in honour of National Philanthropy Day. The ceremony, which took place in Edmonton on the 15th of November saw nominees in the fields of the Arts and Culture, Education, Community Enrichment, The Environment, Social Services, Youth, and Health.

Chris was nominated by Fort McMurray’s Northern Lights Health Foundation in the health category, which recognizes people and groups who give their time, talent, and resources to better the health and well-being of their community. Chris and Birch Mountain Enterprises have raised over $500 000 in the last five years towards the foundation’s work, and this generosity has made a meaningful difference to the hospital and the services it is able to provide.

“Saving patients from pain and helping with healing are so important to the quality of life we all want for ourselves and our families,’ said Chris. He speaks from experience. As a youth, Chris suffered a gunshot wound to the chest while on a hunting trip. He believes that it was the care and treatment he received at the Northern Lights Health Foundation that saved his life.

As a result, as soon as Chris was in a position to do something for his community, it was a small wonder he focused on the Health Foundation. “I’m a proud donor and will continue to keep healthcare close to home with my donations.”

Chris sees what he does as an investment in the health of his family, friends, employees, and community and he feels the need to set an example for others. “We must continue to use our funds and donations to invest in advancing local healthcare services and help each other.”

Chris is a proud band member of the Fort McKay First Nation, and the Nation is proud of Chris and all he does for the community.

Blair Bellerose Releases New Video

Chief Mel Grandjamb and the Fort McKay First Nation would like to congratulate member Blair Bellerose on launching his first-ever video with Butterfly Wings, the latest single from his band Midnight Sparrows.

Blair wrote the song to honour his mother Freda Bellerose, an Indigenous Elder and residential school survivor who passed away last year at the age of 87. The song celebrates all she taught Blair about how to live a good life, while also contemplating the process of letting go so that our loved ones can peacefully transition to the spirit world while we move forward with life here on earth. Writing Butterfly Wings allowed Blair to hold on to the lessons his mother taught him about living life to its fullest as he processed letting go of the one he held so dear.

“Spread your butterfly wings,” sings Blair. “I want to see you be divine. You are divine.”

Blair would like to thank Fort McKay First Nation for a generous funding contribution that allowed him to make this first-ever music video. He notes that while he identified as Métis for most of his earlier life, he is now also a proud member of Fort McKay First Nation thanks to a successful, women-led challenge to the Indian Act which allows for greater gender equity in passing on Indian status through the maternal family line.

Butterfly Wings is featured on Born in the City, the second album from Blair’s band Midnight Sparrows. Blair, who identifies as a Métis, Cree, and Dene singer-songwriter-guitarist, describes Midnight Sparrows as playing guitar-driven hard rock that combines elements of classic rock, power pop, and old-school heavy metal.

Midnight Sparrows’ debut album, Rock & Roll City, was nominated for a Native American Music Award and has been receiving radio play across North America and beyond. Born in the City is being launched hot on the heels of that success. It is a six-song rocker that will make you believe that the magic of rock and roll still exists and its power is as strong as ever. It was produced and written by Blair, and engineered and mixed by Juno and Western Canadian Music Award winner Sheldon Zaharko.


Watch Blair’s new video for Butterfly Wings here!